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‘Ban-the-box’ could come as early as this week

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Back in December, the Assembly Labor Committee voted to release the Opportunity to Compete Act, also known as “ban-the-box,” which seeks to limit employers from conducting criminal background checks on job applicants until after a conditional employment offer has been made.

Employers also would be required to obtain consent from the applicants and provide them with written notice before doing so.

The bill, which business groups largely oppose, was later withdrawn but reintroduced in February. Since then, it has sat dormant.

But according to one insider, there's a “funny feeling” circulating around Trenton that the bill could be heard as early as this week, when the two houses of the Legislature will each hold quorums.

“We may see it as early as (this) Thursday,” the source said.

That makes sense, the source said, since bill advocate and New Jersey Institute for Social Justice CEO Cornell William Brooks has been seen in the Statehouse in recent weeks.

The source says there have been negotiations between those on both sides of the measure, but any signs of concessions to be made are yet to be seen. It's also unclear where Gov. Chris Christie's administration stands on the issue, the source said.

Merck site: Good value, legal limbo and all

It remains to be seen if Russo Development is able to buy Merck's property in Union Township, but if the rumored sale price remains the same, one industry source said the firm could get a good bang for its buck.

That's even with environmental cleanup costs that could total millions of dollars.

Not so fast, though. The 54-acre site is currently in legal limbo as a judge considers whether Kean University has the right of first of refusal for a large portion of the property. That right has belonged to New Jersey's historic Kean family for decades, but a member of the family transferred that right to the university earlier this year.

That threw the property's future into question in April while derailing a deal that was under negotiation, in which Merck would sell the property to Russo for more than $6 million. That landed Russo and Kean University in court last month, as the firm challenged whether the right of first refusal was still applicable.

Kean agreed to stop talks last month while a judge considers the case.

If the case breaks in favor of Russo, its reward could be a significant environmental cleanup, the cost of which is rumored to be “a multiple” of the reported $6 million purchase price, the source said. But it may still be a good deal for the developer; Merck appears to be offering a discount to a buyer willing to take on the cleanup costs.

“Even if it turns out to be multiples, it still may be a good price,” the source said. “They may not be (overpaying) because it's a big site, it's going to be mixed-use and if they can figure it out, it may make sense.”

The source speculated that even if the cleanup were to cost three times the purchase price, “that's still going to be a very reasonable price, and from Merck's perspective, it's a home run.”

Even when you take into account entitlement costs and other expenses, the person said.

“Factoring all that in, it still may be a good buy,” the person said. “And obviously there weren't that many people who were willing to do what Russo appears to be willing to do.”

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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